As new residents pour into the county, the BBJ talks to a number of these new arrivals to see what brought them here and what they plan on contributing to their communities
They come for a fresh start, the enjoyment of new surroundings, or just seeking a better quality of life. Whatever their reasons, these searchers are finding Bellingham and Whatcom County more and more these days, a fact which has some residents worried about runaway growth.
This month, the BBJ talks with some of these new residents about who they are, why they came here, and what they hope to bring to the equation.
Chistopher and Marion Clizbe:
Silicon Valley, CA
Christopher and Marion Clizbe are newcomers to Lynden, but the way of life is very familiar to them.
Both of them spent their childhood in the Silicon Valley when it was still known as Santa Clara Valley. Back then agriculture was the dominant industry in central California, and life was a lot slower.
“When I was a kid the town of Sunnyvale was very similar to Lynden. There were a lot of orchards, everyone knew everyone else and there was a wholesomeness about that community that made it special,” Marion Clizbe said. “Then it began to change.”
The high-tech boom that would create the Silicon Valley would also create big changes in the area’s quality of life, according to the Clizbes. The slower pace was replaced by a go-go-go mentality. Working more than 40 hours a week became the norm. Traffic congestion was a given. As a result, people weren’t spending as much time at home, and it showed in the neighborhood.
“Suddenly it became a situation where you don’t dare make eye contact with your neighbors,” said Christopher Clizbe. “If you did make eye contact, you would get a dirty look, because they assumed the reason you were doing that was because you wanted something from them, and it would take away from the precious time they had.”
Christopher Clizbe admits he was also sucked into the Silicon Valley way of thinking. He had his own high-tech company, GaugeNet (which would later become HiCast when he moved to Lynden), which did computer troubleshooting work for big companies. He was located within a mile of high-tech giants Intel and 3-Com.
“I was working 70 hours a week, which is the norm in that industry,” Clizbe said. “There was so much opportunity there, it was amazing. Marion and I were witnessing history being made in our own backyard. It was wonderful to watch all the success that was taking place, but it was also disappointing to see what it was doing to the community. There was an atmosphere of selfishness that you could feel around you.”
The Clizbes sensed that things were getting away from their community ideals for some time, but their ah-ha moment came when it was time to send their son, Weston, to school.
“We were disappointed about what had been happening to the school system,” Marion Clizbe said. “There were no music and physical education programs due to cutbacks. How could an area that had achieved so much success not be able to support public education? We knew it was time to leave.”
The Clizbes had some relatives in the Lynden area, and after researching the area decided that is where they would relocate. They moved to Lynden in 2003.
“We knew we were in the right place when the first weekend up here there was a farmer’s parade,” Marion Clizbe said. “It was pretty funny to me; I had never seen so many tractors at one time.”
The Clizbes reopened HiCast in June, and Christopher Clizbe said he is taking a much more low-key approach to the business, putting in 40 hours a week helping small businesses and people at home with their computer problems.
Now that they have more time on their hands, the Clizbes have thrown themselves into community activities, such as volunteering in Little League baseball, the Cub Scouts, volunteering at Weston’s school and attending church activities.
“The community here in Lynden is much stronger than we had expected, and we love it,” Marion Clizbe said. “This is exactly what we were looking for.”
Although the Clizbes felt welcomed from the first day they moved to Lynden, they also knew they had to overcome the fact they were newcomers to the community.
“I think one mistake newcomers make when they come to a community is the first thing they want to do is make changes,” Clizbe said. “We wanted to be a part of Lynden; we came here because we like the way it is and its history. I think that helped us become accepted here.”
Having seen what happened to the Silicon Valley, the Clizbes are concerned the same thing could happen in Whatcom County.
“It just seems growth is inevitable. I mean, we’re not so naïve to think we are the only ones from California who like this area. Other people will continue to move here,” Clizbe said. “I think eastern Whatcom County could easily experience the kind of growth we saw in the Silicon Valley.”
The Clizbes agree that what went wrong in the Silicon Valley could be avoided. The biggest problem they saw is that everything happened too fast, before the public could respond.
“You would be driving down the road and you would suddenly see a huge amount of farmland being turned into a mall,” Christopher Clizbe said. “There was just so much going on at the same time, the public couldn’t keep track of it all. They could have taken a lot of these changes to the polls, but instead it was all kept hush-hush until everything was approved.”
The advice they would give, based on what they saw happen in the Silicon Valley, is to designate certain areas for growth and stick to those plans.
“It will be very difficult for the local government to turn down all this money from developers when they come looking for flat land,” Clizbe said. “Rules need to be in place to prevent overdevelopment, if that’s what the community wants.”
Mickey and Xiaomei Masdeo:
Los Angeles, CA
Mickey Masdeo has seen the good and the bad when it comes to living in an unincorporated part of a county, and as Birch Bay debates incorporation, he knows where he stands.
Masdeo, who is a retired accounting manager from Los Angeles County, thinks becoming a city is the smart way to go.
“When an area is unincorporated, bad things can happen, especially when the place is growing as fast as Birch Bay,” said Masdeo, who moved to Birch Bay in 2003.
Masdeo’s work in Los Angeles County involved helping revitalize unincorporated areas by providing business loans and working with community members as well as developers to determine what was needed. Los Angeles county’s budget for revitalizing unincorporated areas was around $300 million a year, much of which came through federal government grants.
“When you have an unincorporated area without a master plan, what inevitably happens is you get a patchwork of industrial property mixed in with commercial and residential property, which is very difficult to change once it’s built,” Masdeo said. “Growth can be a good thing, but you have to plan for it.”
Masdeo said the biggest problem in the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County was the crime and gang activity.
“Crime and gangs can demolish an entire area, not just physically but in ways that affect how people think,” Masdeo said. “People were getting terrified to even go outside their home, so it was difficult for the county to figure out what the community needed. What was especially frustrating was putting in some new infrastructure, only to have it destroyed 24 hours later by criminals. It was hard to make progress.”
The good part, he said, was when they were able to win a few battles.
“We had to do a lot of research to figure out how to tackle the crime situation first, then get things the community needed,” Masdeo said. “In one area, we found it difficult to get people to attend public meetings until we got a community center built. It was amazing how much that center helped tie that community together.”
When Masdeo started thinking about retirement, at the top of his list was wanting to live in a place where there were plenty of outdoor activities.
“I’d had it up to here with all the crime and stuff, and wanted someplace that was much quieter,” Masdeo said.
Masdeo’s wife, Xiaomei (pronounced “Shou Mei”), who is originally from China, had been a teacher in the Ferndale school district through an exchange program. She liked the experience, so they started looking at Whatcom County as a place to retire.
“I was hooked right away. I felt like I was in heaven, and I hadn’t died yet,” Masdeo said. “People here are genuinely friendly, the outdoor features are great, and the weather is good.”
Working with real estate agent Mike Kent, the Masdeos were able to find a home in the Baycrest, a residential neighborhood developed by Homestead.
Now that he is part of the community, he doesn’t mind the fact that there is more potential growth taking place in the Birch Bay area.
“I am concerned about the environment and preserving as much as we can, but that can happen along with growth if there is some planning and the public gets a chance to be a part of it,” Masdeo said.
He thinks public involvement is a weak area the county has to improve on to ensure growth is handled correctly.
“Out in the county it is often difficult to find out what projects are taking place,” Masdeo said. “By the time you do hear about it, the development is too far along to have any adjustments made. The public needs to know early enough so they respond. The local cities are much better at getting the public involved, but it is just as important in the unincorporated areas.”
Brent and Donna Goodrich:
Brent Goodrich can sum up the reason he is moving his family to Whatcom County by giving an example of a typical experience he’s had while visiting here.
“When I walk into a shop in Bellingham, I’m really impressed by the friendliness of the people I encounter,” Goodrich said. “The people I talk to don’t know me from anyone else, yet they are friendly and courteous. That’s something that’s been lost where I come from.”
Goodrich and his wife, Donna, are moving to Bellingham from Alhambra, Calif., a town in the southern part of the state that is about the same size as Bellingham. Their youngest child recently graduated from high school.
“Although the two towns are the same size, there are some big differences,” Goodrich said. “You feel crowded in Alhambra because of all the communities around you. The traffic congestion is ridiculous and getting to the point where a typical commute is more than two hours long. There is no city growth plan. Developers are tearing down homes and putting in huge condo complexes, but not adding any parking or greenways.
“In Bellingham, you have a lot of the stores and services of a big town, but it has a small-town feel to it. I felt at home right away,” he said.
Goodrich found out about Bellingham through his daughter. A member of the Coast Guard, she had stayed in Bellingham for three months when the ship she was stationed on was in dry dock.
“She knew we were thinking of moving out of Alhambra and said I should check out Bellingham,” said Goodrich, who is an auxiliary member of the Coast Guard. “We stopped in Bellingham first with the intention of checking out other Washington communities, but we never left. We knew Bellingham was it.”
It has been a challenge for the Goodriches to find a home, but they are not too worried about it. Brent Goodrich already has a job in Bellingham and they are willing to rent until they find something they like.
“We were frustrated at first because we weren’t sure what we wanted,” said Goodrich, who is now leaning toward getting a condominium. “We’re not in a big hurry to buy.”
Peter Roberts, a real estate agent at John L. Scott who is helping the Goodriches find a home, said it’s been a challenge to find something for them because of the lack of supply in the market.
“They are competing with a lot of people right now for a small number of places,” Roberts said. “The market is not quite as crazy as it has been, but there is still a lot of activity.”
Goodrich has kept abreast of the debates regarding development and growth, such as the Chuckanut Ridge project. Despite what he has seen happen in Southern California, Goodrich said growth can be beneficial.
“The key is to have a plan in place and make sure the city government is monitoring what is going on,” Goodrich said. “There wasn’t any kind of planning happening in Alhambra.”
Laura and Randy Snow:
As a real estate agent, Laura Snow is well aware of how much home prices have been rising in recent years, and has seen it in her community in Arizona. But even she was surprised at how high home prices have become in Whatcom County.
“We’ve had some difficulty finding what we want,” said Snow, who is planning on moving to Whatcom County from Arizona sometime this summer with her husband, Randy, and their four children. “We have a certain criteria, but the prices we’ve seen have been much higher than we expected.”
The Snows aren’t fleeing from a community they don’t like. They’ve been visiting the area for years and have concluded this is where they want to be. Randy Snow owns a fire-safety consulting business, and hopes to restart it after they move to Whatcom County.
“We hope to end up in either Lynden or Blaine,” Laura Snow said. “We like the school districts in those areas and there is a church there that we want to attend.”
The Snows are also attracted to the slower lifestyle and the climate.
“I think I had enough of the summers here in Arizona,” said Snow, who has spent most of her life there. “We’re really looking forward to the change, even though it’s a big step for us. Mike (Parcher, a real estate agent for Prudential Kelstrup Realtors) has been very patient with us in helping find what we want, and I’m sure we’ll find the right home soon.”